I set aside this Easter weekend for review work. I had a small bundle of games that I needed to play through and develop opinions on and I wanted to get them all done before Monday so I could resume working on research papers and all the less enjoyable burdens of life. I started playing Forager on Thursday, not expecting much. It looked like small, if not ambitious exploration of the survival-lite genre, one that places more on making money and purchasing upgrades and expansions rather than surviving in a hardened world. Within twenty minutes I knew that assumption was nowhere near large enough to encompass just how much joy I was getting out of Forager and its ridiculously simple yet addictive gameplay loop.
The premise for Forager is perhaps one of the simplest in the survival-lite genre. You’re on an island, make some money. That’s it. How you make that money is up to you. Most players will probably start out mining rocks for minerals or cutting down trees to build structures that allow for the development of more items. It’s a familiar start, one that doesn’t take its time in getting you right into the core of its gameplay.
As to be expected from games of this genre, the longer you play the more options open as to how exactly you keep up that flow of profits. Do you fancy yourself a farmer? Dig some holes and plant some fruit trees. Or maybe you’d prefer to just sell all the priceless gems you keep finding on the market for a profit? That’s viable too. Forager doesn’t shoehorn you into any one particular playstyle but rather encourages you to pursue a track that you find the most enjoyable. How Forager provides this freedom is perhaps what is most unique about it.
Unlike many games of the genre, Forager has an expansive list of unlocks that can only be obtained through levelling by earning XP. The idea of “levelling up” in a survival game with fake game points rather than the resources you have available is a testament to just how differently Forager wants to be from the completion. This is the lite-est (?) of survival games and it knows that, choosing to focus its ideas into places that allow for exploration, discovery and goals other than “last as long as you can”, and I for one adored that.
I can only remain invested in an open world survival game with no set goals for so long, but the myriad of unlockable content and quests found on the different islands always drew me back in for more. This is where the addiction comes into play. Just one more quest and I’ll go to campus. Build one more structure and I’ll go make supper. Just explore one more island and I’ll go to bed. And by the end of that constant self-haggling, you’ve earned more money than you thought, unlocked your abilities more than you expected and need to go to an all-night convenience store at two in the morning because you didn’t actually make supper.
The other way content is fed to the player is through exploration. Off the bat, the space for exploration is very limited but once the money starts rolling in you can spend it on new pieces of land, essentially expanding the areas your resources gathering ventures and maybe even finding an NPC or two with a few quests on offer. While I was initially concerned with how long it was taking to unlock the first piece of land, the rate at which you earn money and how quickly you level up and gather more resources seems to grow alongside you, meaning my next expansion was never too far off and only added to my compulsion to keep playing for just a little bit longer; buy one more island and then go to Spar at two in the morning. That time I actually did it.
And this isn’t even taking into account how vibrant and welcoming the game’s visuals are. From the sunburnt deserts to the creaky graveyards, the environments in Forager just pop with a visual style of a highly polished classic Zelda game. There were moments when my islands would get increasingly chaotic and difficult to navigate due to certain resources masking others in the background, but it was nothing a few swings of a pickaxe couldn’t fix.
Perhaps my biggest complaint I have with the game is its soundtrack which is just kinda…there? In a game where I was spending hours just hitting trees and rocks, ostensibly being consumed by cathartic boredom, I would have loved a few more jams to bop along too, and I mean that in the most unironic way possible. The music in the game is certainly enjoyable, but it just lacked a presence that I think would have elevated the experience to even higher levels.
Despite that small issue, I think Forager is a fantastic game. One that encourages a sense of exploration and accomplishment whilst never placing any extreme pressure to adhere to rules of its universe (I know I have to go to bed at a decent hour in real life Stardew Valley, I don’t need that in my games too). It’s charming, inspiring and just so much damn fun and watching the in-game slideshow of just how developer HopFrog made Forager made me appreciate the experience even more. It’s a game that’s had a lot of love poured into and I can’t help but drown it in my adoration too.
Last Updated: April 24, 2019